hen the offence struggles, DeRozan tends to be at the centre of it. He will hold the ball a bit too long or fail to navigate aggressive traps. Similarly, DeRozan can lose the plot defensively. He has stepped up in his efforts to guard Joe Johnson over the last two games, a matchup that admittedly is asking him to do a bit too much. “We’re not there yet,” Casey said on Monday when asked about the notion of DeRozan as a superstar. “I don’t think that they think we’re there yet, at that point. It’s great to see DeMar grow. There’s still room for more growth on his part, and he knows it — on the defensive end and places in the offensive area. From where he came from, he’s grown leaps and bounds. What’s a beautiful thing is there is a lot more there with him.” DeRozan is already doing a lot for the Raptors. He has made and attempted more free throws than anybody else in the playoffs. He is averaging 24.5 points, eighth overall. He is guarding Johnson. It is a heavy burden.
“It’s a marathon, we can’t get too high with one game, can’t get too low,” Casey said, repeating his mantra. “For this young team, I think it’s a big step. For our franchise going forward, if things work out, we should be looking bigger picture. We want to make sure we don’t just want to be a flash in the pan.” Hence why Terrence Ross is still starting and will continue to do so, despite laying a large egg so far. It’s also why Jonas Valanciunas was allowed to play through growing pains all season. “Nobody expected us to be here. Every experience is a new experience for us,” Casey said on a conference call on Monday. “Guys are growing in every situation. DeMar DeRozan is getting better in a playoff situation. But, most of all, going through this process, through these games, going through the playoffs is nothing but a plus for our franchise.”
The Raptors sped toward him like a massive wave of rush-hour commuters at Penn Station darting for the tracks below once the boarding announcement is made. The result: seven points, the fewest Johnson has scored since March 1 in Milwaukee. Seven shots, the lowest number he’s hoisted in a game since Jan. 24 against Dallas. And countless agitating moments. “They are doubling and tripling,” Johnson said after the Nets’ 87-79 Game 4 loss, which evened their Eastern Conference first-round series at 2-2 heading into Game 5 at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. “Ain’t much I can do.” Johnson, who toasted the Raps for a combined 71 points in the first three games, was a marked man. He’s been the centerpiece of the Raptors’ defensive game plan from the get-go, but they executed their scheme to a level they hadn’t previously reached. Johnson had to keep his head on a swivel. “Their defence was a big difference,” he said.
There are plenty of people who deserved credit for the Raptors success, but nearly all of them have ties to Colangelo, including head coach Dwane Casey who Colangelo hired, and current general manager Masai Ujiri who Colangelo recommended for his job after incoming MLSE president and chief executive officer Tim Leiweke moved Colangelo aside after seven years on the job. After a year on hiatus multiple NBA sources have told Sportsnet that he’s close to joining the fray again and is a leading candidate to run the Detroit Pistons. The Raptors success – the one hole on his resume – isn’t nearly as glaring any more.
If Lowry knows what he’s doing, where he’s going, how he’s leaning, he isn’t saying. Ask him about his pending free agency and you’ll get that “next question” look. Ask him why he would want to go anywhere else when everything is now lined up in his favour here with the Raptors, and the sometimes wordy Lowry will speak in short sentences that give no hint of the future. His agent, Andy Miller, is coming to Toronto for Game 5 on Wednesday. Undoubtedly, he will meet with GM Masai Ujiri — more of a friendly meeting than anything else. Under the rules of the CBA, the two are not permitted to negotiate until July 1. A call to Miller on Monday was not returned. For his part, Ujiri doesn’t feel the time is right, with a playoff series tied, to talk publicly about Lowry’s situation. It doesn’t mean he and his staff aren’t working on it. Ujiri believes he can craft a deal with Lowry to keep him in Toronto. He believes that, but he also understands this is business: He has to be prepared for Lowry staying, Lowry leaving. He can’t be caught unaware.
“I thought he went through Game 1 and experienced that and got that out of the way. From that he grew and gained confidence,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said on a conference call Monday. “It’s great to see DeMar grow. There’s still room for more growth on his part and he knows it — on the defensive end and places in the offensive areas — but where he came from, he’s grown by leaps and bounds.” Because of him, so have the Raptors.
In a stunning role reversal, it’s been the Nets who have failed to step up when a game needed to be seized, when execution was required in the fourth quarters of highly competitive and close games. It’s not a good sign when the past three fourth quarters have exposed the Nets in areas many could not have envisioned back when the series began in Toronto. That was a Game 1 win by Brooklyn in which the difference was Paul Pierce going off for nine points in a span of mere minutes in the fourth quarter. “This is where we should be at our best, those late-game situations,’’ Deron Williams said. “We’ve been there before. They’re a younger team that doesn’t have as much proper experience, but they ain’t playing like it.’’
Benching Ross would be an awful move on Casey’s part, even with Ross playing as poorly as he is. His confidence is shaken, but it’s not completely destroyed. Casey has given Ross ample opportunity to play himself out of obscurity, but the results haven’t been there. Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry will continue to see a majority of touches, but if Ross can start contributing on both ends of the floor and provide that two-way spark at small forward, it would improve the chances of Toronto advancing to the Eastern Conference semi-finals a great deal.
Though the Raptors struggled mightily in the second and third quarters, they were impressive in the first and fourth and overall took much better care of the ball and exhibited better shot discipline. That must continue against an outstanding defensive opponent. Got the ball swung to the weakside and made the defence shift enough to get quality looks and just seemed less rattled and a little more sure of what they wanted to accomplish per trip. Still room for lots of improvement and they’ll need it; will take the Nets best punch so far in this series on Wednesday.
From a Raptors perspective, turnovers have become the most telling stat. When they protect the basketball, like they did in Sunday’s breakthrough Game 4 win, the Raptors give themselves a chance to win. The Raptors did overcome a 21-turnover night in Game 2, but it required a sublime fourth-quarter performance from DeMar DeRozan and a 36-point period to prevail in a five-point game. Through the first three games of the series, the Raptors combined for a staggering 49 turnovers. In Game 4, they did a much better job in a virtual must-win situation, turning the ball over 10 times and jumping out to a much-needed quick start by throwing the first punch and making all the necessary plays at both ends of the floor in a dramatic fourth quarter.
We’ve done it. It happened a lot quicker then I thought it would. We likely did a really good rating and I think the turnout at Maple Leaf Square was the largest of the 4 games – and it will be massive for game 5. This series was what the media and people of Toronto needed to take this team seriously. They have sold about 1500+ NEW Seasons Tickets for next season….NEW….not renewals…..but actual NEW tickets. This team has to beat Brooklyn in round 1…..I knew it from the start…..go Raptors!!
The day after his team evened their best-of-seven series with the Brooklyn Nets at 2-2, Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey does not think his team has gained control of the series. “No, not whatsoever. It’s not my first rodeo,” said Casey during a conference call with the media. The Raptors head coach was pleased with the way his team responded to the physical nature of the series in Game 4 and wants them to play like that on a more consistent basis. He also feels the team can follow the lead of starting point guard Kyle Lowry. “Kyle is a tough guy,” said Casey. “That is what I’m preaching to a lot of our guys and they have injuries they’re not publicizing”
Yes, the last time a Toronto team made you feel about them the way this Raptors group does, Doug Gilmour was in his prime and the Leafs — but for a referee’s lack of courage to call a penalty on Wayne Gretzky — could have gone on to the Stanley Cup final. Now, we’re not saying the Raptors are definitely headed to the NBA Finals this year or even next. A handful of Argos teams in the past 21 years and the Jays of1992 and ’93 can certainly make the claim that they, like the these Raptors, stole our hearts. Hell, even last year’s Leafs’ almost-win over Boston in the first round got this city believing for a short time. But this Raptors team just has something that no team since Gilmour’s can claim. What we’re saying is it has been this long since a team came along quite unexpectedly and, with a resolve few on the outside saw developing, played with the kind of passion and single-mindedness to win and overcome whatever obstacles was put in their path.
Armstrong, 51, grew up a few minutes from here, in Flatbush. He hasn’t been to Farrell’s in a decade. We’re in there an hour and word gets out. Lumpy, vaguely dangerous-looking guys he played grade-school ball with at St. Brendan’s parish start rolling in to pay respects. “So I hear you’re a big deal in Canada,” one of them says suspiciously. Armstrong demurs. But it’s true. He is a big deal in Canada.
Audience levels peaked at 1.46 million late in the fourth quarter as the Raptors secured the 87-79 victory. The game is the most-watched First Round game in the history of the NBA Playoffs on Canadian television.
I doubt any Raptor player wins an individual award in the next three years, but I suspect we’ll be in the playoffs. I’ll take that trade-off, every time.
Now, the Nets need to adjust. Johnson knows. They can’t let it happen again. “I mean, I looked out and there were three guys coming at me once. But I just tried to make the right play, man. It forced other guys to make plays, and down the stretch, we just couldn’t come up with the big play.” His coach said the burden must be shared, but also singled out Deron Williams for inconsistency and a lack of aggressiveness. “It is not so much a problem. For Deron, his energy, having high energy and playing with that energy for 48 minutes on the floor, the rest of the guys follow him,” said Kidd, adding, “For him, it is about playing with that same energy and the intent of being aggressive.”
“I think so, but the crazy thing about our team is it could be anybody,” DeRozan said. “It could be Kyle Lowry, it could be Greivis, it could be JV, it could be Amir, that’s the crazy thing about our team. We have trust in every single person on this team to carry us to a victory especially in the last five minutes, but sometimes they just look to me – more times than (not), but we put that trust factor in every single guy who steps out there on that floor.” A lot of DeRozan’s confidence has come from years of hard work that paid off in an All-Star appearance this season. After some first game jitters in the playoffs, the 24-year-old realized he could do the same things in the postseason that he’d been doing all year. “(Belief) is a lot of it,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “He has confidence. He is growing. He has worked and earned that confidence. He has made himself an All-Star, that’s a confidence builder and confidence is a huge issue in this league. He went through Game One and